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Task force on special offerings looks to reverse downward trend

Although giving has been declining for a decade for the special offerings of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a task force – saying there is “tremendous untapped potential” – is recommending that the church set a goal of raising $20 million from those offerings by 2020.

Achieving that would require a 50 percent increase over the $13.7 million given to the denomination’s four special offerings in 2010 – or an increase of roughly $3.50 per member.

The task force also is recommending that the PC(USA) have no more than four special offerings overall, and also that a new offering be created to support world mission, called the World Communion Offering. In order to add that new offering without increasing the number of offerings overall, the Peacemaking Offering would be discontinued, although “peacemaking endeavors” could receive some funding through One Great Hour of Sharing.

The 2012 General Assembly is being asked to approve such a plan for the 2014-2017 time period. The General Assembly Mission Council will consider the report of the Special Offerings Advisory Task Force at its meeting in Louisville Feb. 15-17.

Here are some more details.

What gets funded. There would be some adjustments in how the proceeds of special offerings would be allocated.

It is not the intent of the Special Offerings Advisory Task Force to defund any ministry,” the report states. But there would be some changes.

Part of the Christmas Joy offering, for example, would go to fund “racial ethnic church leadership development,” if the recommendation were approved, rather than “racial ethnic education.”

And some specific programs that are currently designated to receive funds from one of the special offerings – programs such as Self Development of People, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the Presbyterian Hunger Program – no longer would be guaranteed to receive a specific percentage of a particular fund.

Those three programs currently are funded through One Great Hour of Sharing, which states that the money for that offering will be received “in response to Christ’s call to feed the hungry, house the homeless, minister to the suffering, and empower the poor and oppressed.”

The task force recommends that the General Assembly approve new language stating instead that the money from One Great Hour of Sharing would go for “ministries of justice, peace, development and compassion as determined bi-annually by the General Assembly Mission Council,” such as community development, disaster assistance, hunger ministries and peacemaking endeavors. That would come, the proposed new language states, “in response to Christ’s call to sacrificial love for world.”

In making such changes, the report states, the task force is trying to integrate the special offerings “into the visioning and strategic planning work of the General Assembly Mission Council, so that the denomination gains flexibility to use these critical funds strategically. In most cases, the Task Force proposal changes the distribution pattern away from specific ministry programs, where there is less flexibility and directs the distribution instead toward topical areas of ministry . . . In this way, we have a holistic sense of the work of each offering, rather than solely funding the work of one office, in one ministry area, without alignment with our overall mission.”

As a result, the report states, percentage allocations from special offerings to specific program areas would be discontinued – such as funds from the Pentecost Offering that currently go to Youth and Young Adult Ministries. The special offerings would be reviewed every four years.

New offering for world mission. The report also states that the new offering for world mission, if approved, would be dedicated on World Mission Sunday and used for global mission and justice. The proceeds would be divided, with 25 percent going to congregations “for local witness and outreach to the world;” 25 percent to presbyteries; and half to be allocated by the General Assembly Mission Council “for global witness and outreach beyond the United States,” the report states.

The task force expects Presbyterians are willing to give more for world mission – but not necessarily more specifically for peacemaking.

Interviews revealed widespread, passionate donor interest in global mission, without an easily accessible opportunity for funding that passion,” the report states.

At the same time, “the Special Offerings Advisory Task Force believes that the Peacemaking Offering has maximized its potential to solicit donor support as a stand-alone offering. The Peacemaking Offering has consistently produced about $1.1 million each year, for the past twenty years. While there have been years in which occasionally the offering has had higher or lower receipts, over the past twenty years, response to the Peacemaking Offering has been flat.”

Fund-raising goals. The 2008 General Assembly created the Special Offerings Advisory Task Force. In making its report back to the assembly, the task force concludes that much has shifted and that the special offerings “are no longer working as they once did for the church. For the past decade, Special Offerings have been in decline,” as donor patterns in general have shifted and “as we live in a time of great transformation for the church.”

Despite that, however, the task force remains confident that Presbyterians are willing to give.

The task force has set what it calls a “bold, transformational goal” for the PC(USA) to raise $20 million in special offerings by 2020, and branded the initiative as the “20 by 20” campaign, also referring to it as “20/20 Vision.”

The task force wrote in its report that it “believes God is calling (the) PC(USA) to a new vision of missional generosity and commitment as a denomination. Special Offerings unite us in mission. Special Offerings allow churches of all sizes to participate in mission together . . .

The Task Force resists any approach that passively accepts the current rate of decline as inevitable, pointing to a shrinking denomination or a challenging economy. Rather, as a blessed and faithful people, Presbyterians must listen more attentively than ever to Christ’s call.

The report states that “our consultants, The Alford Group, have also deemed the goal achievable.”

Among the techniques the task force recommends for making that happen:

  • Strengthening each of the offerings – in part by linking each more closely to the liturgical season in which the offering takes place. That will allow for a “season of interpretation” for each offering.

  • Providing technological means for individuals and congregations to give, such as offering credit card subscriptions and using videos and social media “to tell Special Offering stories.”

  • Hiring a director of special offerings “to be a public face for the offerings” and to lead the fundraising efforts.

  • Setting up a task force of racial ethnic leaders to advise the General Assembly Mission Council on special offering funds to be used for racial ethnic leadership development.

  • Reappointing members the Special Offerings Advisory Task Force for another two years to oversee implementation of the report.


Current giving levels. In 2010, combined giving to the four PC(USA) specials offerings totaled just under $14 million – down from about $18 million in 2000. Current giving for the four offerings combined comes to about $7 per member.

The current four offerings are:

– Christmas Joy Offering, which produced $4.2 million in 2010. Proceeds go to support Board of Pensions assistance programs and Presbyterian-related racial ethnic schools and colleges.

– One Great Hour of Sharing, which produced about $7.6 million in 2010. The offering is taken during Lent and used to fund Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Self-Development of People and the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

– Pentecost Offering, which is collected in June produced just under $824,000 in 2010. The money is used to fund programs for youth and young adults and programs for children at risk.

– Peacemaking Offering, which is collected in October and which supports peacemaking efforts at both local and national levels of the church. In 2010 Presbyterians gave nearly $996,000 to the Peacemaking Offering.

Calling the campaign “20 by 20,” the Special Offerings Advisory Task Force wrote in its report that it “believes God is calling (the) PC(USA) to a new vision of missional generosity and commitment as a denomination. Special Offerings unite us in mission. Special Offerings allow churches of all sizes to participate in mission together.”